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Newton stunned by 2d case of child porn in two weeks

By Deirdre Fernandes and Evan Allen
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / January 26, 2012
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For the second time in two weeks, residents of Newton, which touts its reputation as one of the safest cities in America, were staggered by the accusation that a trusted public employee was involved in child pornography.

Authorities announced yesterday that they had arrested Peter Buchanan, a 10-year city employee who had worked most recently in the Newton Public Library’s audio visual section.

State Police accuse Buchanan, 47, of downloading and sharing child pornography. He pleaded not guilty in Newton District Court to three counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of distribution of material depicting a child in a sexual act.

Buchanan’s arrest was a second blow to a community that was reeling from the arrest last week of David Ettlinger, a beloved second-grade teacher at the Underwood Elementary School. Ettlinger, 34, of Allston, was charged with sexually assaulting a girl and filming it. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Investigators also accuse Ettlinger of posting to an international website that trafficked in child pornography.

“I think it’s really disturbing,’’ said Carol Reichert, a parent who was at the Newton Public Library yesterday. “It’s difficult to know who people really are.’’

One of Reichert’s children attends a school where Ettlinger taught. “It’s very hard to feel like your kids are safe,’’ she said.

“It’s two strikes,’’ said Kate Fraktman, a Newton mother. “When people hear Newton, you’ll associate it with something you don’t want to associate it with.’’

Investigators said the two cases are unrelated, but they have struck at Newton’s core. Newton has built its reputation on its safety and its schools. Last month, Newton was named the fifth-safest city in the United States by CQ Press. Its schools are consistently ranked among the state’s top in test scores, and parents are often in classrooms as volunteers.

The cases have sparked a round of soul-searching among city officials and residents and drawn pointed questions from parents about what more public institutions can do to protect their children.

Mayor Setti Warren and School Superintendent David Fleishman have each pledged to review screening procedures and hiring practices.

Officials did routine criminal background checks on Buchanan when he was hired, Warren said. Ettlinger underwent screening every three years, including last year, but no red flags were found.

“One person can have a devastating effect,’’ Warren said. “And one person with this type of behavior in our midst is unacceptable.’’

Warren found out about Buchanan’s arrest from police as he was leaving a community forum Tuesday night on the Ettlinger case.

The allegations against Ettlinger, especially, have left many parents angry and dumb-founded. They are still grappling with how the man they called Mr. E, the charming, energetic, young teacher, could be the person known on the internet as ee1, who federal investigators allege advertised graphic videos on the Dreamboard Website.

People gravitated to Ettlinger because he always seemed happy, said Susan Brown, a family therapist whose daughter had him as a teacher early in his career at Peirce Elementary School.

“If he was older and looked different and wasn’t handsome and wasn’t friendly,’’ Brown said, “people would be reacting differently.’’

Ettlinger was a rock-climber and invited students to area gyms. According to a spokeswoman for Newton’s Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, Ettlinger taught rock-climbing at parties and a one-week summer program until 2008.

Brown said her daughter, now a teenager, was among the children who went rock-climbing with Ettlinger. At the time, he was a young teacher, and parents thought it was refreshing that he cared about his job and his students enough to look out for them outside school, Brown said.

“There was never an inclination of it being weird,’’ said Brown, among the parents who threw Ettlinger a going-away party when he left for Underwood.

City police said earlier this week that there is no evidence that Newton students were harmed by Ettlinger.

Still, Ettlinger’s attendance at neighborhood parties, his rock-climbing trips, his frequent appearances at the local pool, and his baby-sitting jobs are now being viewed through a jagged lens.

School officials said they received some complaints about Ettlinger over the years, but none that clearly pointed to behavior that led to the arrest.

A parent on a field trip several years ago reported seeing a child sitting on Ettlinger’s lap. School officials investigated and talked to the girl’s mother, who was also on the trip, and she had no concern about the contact.

Another parent accused Ettlinger of kicking a student, which was investigated by officials, but did not result in disciplinary action, said Fleishman.

Parents have questioned whether the city should perform more extensive screening of teachers, going beyond a check of criminal history under the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information law. They have also asked whether the school should have a policy that would ban teachers from baby-sitting students.

Fleishman said school officials will look at whether it is possible to do a national criminal check on teachers.

As for banning baby-sitting, Fleishman said many young teachers and aides take care of young children as a side job to earn more money.

“To ban teachers from babysitting, you might as well ban them from teaching,’’ he said.

Newton officials recognize that the community’s trust has been diminished, Fleishman said.

Everybody is looking for signs of whether a policy or procedure would have alerted officials to this behavior, he said.

Charlie Shapiro, a third-generation Newton resident and former alderman, said the cases have reminded residents that while the city is affluent and its schools are highly rated, it is not immune to problems. “Newton is a special community,’’ he said. “But . . . we’re not isolated from the rest of the world.’’

Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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